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What to order at P.F. Chang's before menu panic sets in

Chef, entrepreneur, baker, reluctant cupcake master, cookbook author, humorist/memoirist/essayist (writer), public speaker, raconteur, wife, mother,

We tried out P.F. Chang's 'Farm to Wok' menu and here's what we recommend

We’ve all experienced “menu panic” — that phenomenon where you sit down at a restaurant, are immediately overwhelmed by all the options, not being able to figure out what’s good, and then just blurting out the first thing you think of when the server comes by. It’s a real disorder, and we’re here to help. Because we here at SheKnows love you, and know you deserve only the very best.

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This week, we’re visiting P.F. Chang’s, America’s favorite Asian-inspired chain restaurant (seriously — they’ve got a Zagat award and everything). Recently they rolled out a “Farm to Wok” policy nationwide, which means up to 22 percent of their produce comes from 500 miles or less to a particular restaurant. (Percentages vary based on the location of the restaurant, seasonality and proximity to farms.) All of their rice is grown in the U.S. We were initially skeptical of this claim — farm-to-table is an overused buzzword, and it does seem logistically impossible to have a chain with restaurants across the country be able to pull a feat like this off, especially considering the scale of their operations.

But they surprised us! A visit to one of their locations revealed that they are receiving fresh vegetables every single day in smaller quantities, meaning the food you’re being served hasn’t been sitting in refrigerated storage for days. The one freezer on premises is roughly the size of a household refrigerator, meaning that nearly everything you’re eating is made there that day.

So here's what we liked most on our recent visit to P.F. Chang's.

More: What to buy at an Asian grocery store

Dumplings

Remarkably, these are made by hand every morning by the fine cooks at P.F. Chang's. I grew up smack-dab between two Chinatowns in Brooklyn, and most restaurants there don’t do this — they buy frozen. Both the shrimp and pork dumplings were absolutely delicious, and a safe bet to please everyone at the table.

Lettuce Wraps

I did some informal polling regarding the best dish at P.F. Chang’s, and the unanimous winner was the lettuce wraps. And I mean unanimous — every single person I asked picked this as their go-to order. They were most definitely onto something.

We tried out P.F. Chang's 'Farm to Wok' menu and here's what we recommend
Image: P.F. Chang's

Lobster & Shrimp Street Tacos

Lobster is one of those foods that is so easy to mess up, which is utterly tragic since it costs a pretty penny and no one should be shelling out big bucks for dry, chewy seafood. Remarkably, the cooks here nailed it. Succulent and sweet, it got a five-star rating from my 9-year-old son, who is the resident lobster expert in this family. Don’t underestimate him because of his age — picky children are the best critics of the four or five things they will actually eat, and I somehow ended up with a picky eater with Champagne and caviar tastes.

Fried Green Beans

A lot of restaurants offer items of this ilk — taking an ordinary vegetable and doing their best to make it not horrible for you. I’m not fooled, but I also don’t care. These are amazing, and even better when you dip them in their stupidly addictive “zesty sauce” (which is mayo mixed with a little Sriracha, so it makes things extra naughty).

More: Asian fruit and vegetables to know and love

Dynamite Shrimp

It’s fried shrimp tossed in their zesty sauce — a name that totally undersells its crack-level appeal. Whoever came up with this dish at corporate headquarters should get the biggest, fattest raise in company history.

Egg Drop Soup

This may be the first time I was not underwhelmed by a bowl of egg drop soup. Your average takeout joint will serve you an oversalted bowl of broth with a faint chemical aftertaste, and no amount of packaged condiments will save that mess. The P.F. Chang’s version is smooth and velvety, made from a chicken stock prepared in-house with none of the off flavors a powdered chicken bouillon base usually imparts. We didn’t even need to add a single drop of soy sauce — it was perfect just the way it was.

Singapore Street Noodles

Not an authentic version of this Southeast Asian specialty by any means, but a very solid take on the Americanized Singapore mei fun. While good at the table, this dish really shone the next morning when eaten cold from the refrigerator. Don’t act like you don’t also do that with Chinese leftovers. It’s a very important standard in determining the excellence of a take-out dish.

Long Life Noodles & Prawns

Surprising the hell out of me, the best thing I tried at P.F. Chang’s was a side dish of Long Life Noodles. A very simple preparation of egg noodles with a touch of sauce and scallions, it was somewhat brilliant in its simplicity. I could easily eat this alone as an entrée, but if you’re looking for a bit more heft, grab the version topped with fried prawns.

Banana Spring Rolls

It’s a classic that never fails to delight me. Fried in spring roll wrappers, the bananas become custardy and remarkably sweet, barely requiring the accompanying caramel sauce or gigantic scoop of ice cream. Of course, I wouldn’t turn either of those things down because I didn’t come to P.F. Chang’s to make responsible decisions.

Berry Ginger Shortcake

There are more enticing options on the dessert menu — it’s hard to look at a photo of The Great Wall of Chocolate and not want to order a slab — but the best thing on the menu is undoubtedly the Berry Ginger Shortcake. Sweet from the cake, tangy from the berries, lucious from the whipped cream and a touch spicy from the ginger, this fine piece of pastry engineering has everything you could want to finish your meal on a high note.

We tried out P.F. Chang's 'Farm to Wok' menu and here's what we recommend
Image: P.F. Chang's

We tried out P.F. Chang's 'Farm to Wok' menu and here's what we recommend
Image: SheKnows

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